Recently, Kenna W, a homebrew programmer released a ROM hack titled “Zelda Starring Zelda”, based on the original LEGEND OF ZELDA, where you could play as Zelda herself and save Link. It’s such a simple and interesting idea. Why didn’t anyone think of this sooner?
It’s time for Nintendo to do something genuinely interesting with one of their most beloved franchises: THE LEGEND OF ZELDA. The next one should star Zelda as the Heroine of Time. Here’s why:
1. Nintendo has very few interesting leading ladies.
There’s been obnoxiously few primary in-house Nintendo games (apart from the METROID series) where there’s been a main playable female protagonist who is not part of a large ensemble cast. There’s been a couple Pokemon games (CRYSTAL, HEARTGOLD, and SOULSILVER) and SUPER PRINCESS PEACH, a little known 2006 DS title where one of Peach’s powers is crying. *Groan*
METROID, their flagship lady showcase, has a weird opinion of Samus, either hiding her behind bulky, gender-neutral armor or showing her as a blonde bombshell in a skintight blue leotard. I mean, her very first 8-bit appearance was wearing a pink bikini workout uniform thing.
Her first genuine characterization in OTHER M (yes, I’m going to bring it up) was a bit troubling. A bad-ass bounty hunter, armed to the teeth, has to play nice and because some yuppie turd on a radio arbitrarily tells her to. Samus Aran is great to have, but I’d like to see Nintendo be more adventurous with their other franchises. I have a feeling that after being stung by METROID: OTHER M, that they’ll be hesitant to switch up their tried-and-true formulas. I think the miscalculation was having Team Ninja, who have laughably terrible depiction of women, tackle their only female protagonist and turn her into a weak-willed, immature woman-child. That’s not necessarily immediately sexist, but just a bad character. Or maybe not. What did you expect from the childish assholes that brought you bouncy tit physics?
The various Nintendo platforms have had single games developed by third party studios obviously (such as Alex Rovias from the excellent ETERNAL DARKNESS for Gamecube), but never a released first party game where Peach, Daisy, Rosalina, or Krystal where they were the central and only playable character. Nintendo has always favored the Mute Protagonist so the player could project their own personality onto the character. Yet if that’s the case, why is the main character almost always male?
2. THE LEGEND OF ZELDA’s continuity emphasizes a changing protagonist.
The Spirit of the Hero is an idea that’s passed along through various generations and iterations of Hyrule. The Hero is always chosen by the Goddesses, the matriarchal deities of Hyrule’s theology, and they pick someone of special courage and integrity. So… not a single Hyrulian gal fits the bill? In 15 games? Not one? The Goddesses work in mysterious ways.
I understand the need to establish a recognizable character that helps sell games. Nintendo’s embarrassing failure with OTHER M has only taught them that experimentation has risk, but they succeeded thoroughly bringing METROID into the next gen with PRIME in 1st person nonetheless. The METROID: PRIME series kept the character of Samus Aran coherent from 2D to 3D, so it had nothing to do with format, but character. They changed the reason why people liked Samus.
Making Zelda the Heroine of Hyrule is a breath of fresh air that doesn’t change the core of the character of the Hero: she should be a tough, determined, courageous woman chosen to protect her homeland. Link in the LOZ series has always been a different person person taking up the mantle of the Hero, so it’s a big disingenuous to say it’s the same character. There’s always a changing setting, new enemies, dungeons, and gadgets. THE LEGEND OF ZELDA series is starting to feel dated story-wise, like it’s part of a previous generation of games too stubborn to change and innovate.
3. The Character Dynamic Between Zelda and Link is Boring and Dated.
The main recurring themes of LEGEND OF ZELDA is one of a heroic man/boy rescuing a princess from the clutches of a dastardly, mustache twirling villain bent of conquering the land to do evil stuff. God, this is getting old. It’s ancient, crusty, and belongs in a museum. The whole kidnapping motif is an arbitrary goal for the protagonist to overcome, and I’d rather see LEGEND OF ZELDA do something a tad more interesting for its next gen outing.
Switching up the dynamic by having Zelda be the Heroine and Link the Prince of Hyrule creates a new, important space for these characters to exist. How would the people of Hyrule deal with a Heroine? Would they reject or accept her? What new challenges would she face? A tough, determine Heroine gives both characters depth and new possibilities that haven’t been explored in Nintendo games before. You can even keep their lore-friendly personalities intact with their roles in the story, but merely switching their genders upsets the whole annoying idea that the woman always has to be rescued from the nasty bad man. What does this communicate to the 40% of gamers who are girls? Also, Zelda’s always been better with magic, so it’d also be a time for LEGEND OF ZELDA to go more with its bland magic system.
Zelda’s had a few different forms over the years, such as Sheik and Tetra, both memorable interpretations of the character. These roles have been cool, fun, and also completely unplayable. Zelda/Sheik is a playable character in SUPER SMASH BROS, but once again, that’s an ensemble game. I’ve always been of the opinion that a chosen hero born from prophecy to defeat evil was always kind of a dull but necessary mythological construct, and I’m not immediately against that plot again. Her tough, bad-ass side needs to come front and center, the warrior woman needs her time in the sun. Nintendo needs to make a bold, interesting change to this series that shows they want to be part of the next generation.
Let’s hope Team Ninja stays away this time.
Check out these various interpretations of a Female Link:
About the Author
Carl Wilhoyte has never actually beaten LEGEND OF ZELDA 1 or 2. They’re freakin’ hard. Laugh at him on the Twitters at @carlwilhoyte.